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Election Finance Law: An Update

Election Finance Law: An Update

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 13/2005 by Talina Drabsch
This paper is an update of Election Finance Law: Public Funding, Donations and Expenditure by Rachel Callinan, NSW Parliamentary Library Briefing Paper No 15/2001. It provides an overview of the funding and disclosure schemes that regulate election finance in NSW and at the federal level. The provision of funding and requiring disclosure of donations and expenditure are thought to strengthen Australia’s democratic institutions, enhance the political process, and dampen the influence of money on politics. The extent to which the various regimes achieve these purposes is debateable, as are the changes considered necessary.

An overview of the funding and disclosure scheme in NSW is provided in section two (pp 2-6), with particular attention given to the relevant provisions of the Election Funding Act 1981 (NSW). Candidates, groups and parties in NSW obtain public funding provided they receive at least 4% of the first preference votes in an election, or a member is elected to parliament. Regulation in NSW involves various requirements of disclosure in relation to donations and expenditure. The NSW Act introduced the first statutory scheme in Australia, shortly followed by the Commonwealth.

Part XX of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) establishes the federal funding and disclosure scheme, the main features of which are discussed in section three (pp 7-15). Like NSW, candidates, groups and parties are eligible for public funding provided they receive at least 4% of first preference votes. There are numerous disclosure requirements applying to candidates, groups, political parties, third parties, associated entities, donors, publishers and broadcasters. The Australian Electoral Commission has repeatedly identified some of the difficulties with the current scheme, outlining its proposals for reform in a number of submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Only some of these recommendations have been implemented.

A table comparing the main features of the relevant schemes in the states and territories in Australia and at the federal level is included in section four (pp 16-22). A number of jurisdictions have implemented various changes to their regime since 2001, and these alterations are identified in this section. The Electoral Act 2002 (Vic) has entered into force, with public funding now available in Victoria. Certain gaming licensees in Victoria are restricted to a maximum annual donation of $50,000. The Electoral Act 2004 (NT) operates in the Northern Territory, with disclosure requirements now applying in that jurisdiction. A new statute, the Electoral Act 2004 (Tas) has been enacted in Tasmania, but there do not appear to be any dramatic changes. An expenditure limit continues to apply to the Upper House of the Tasmanian Parliament. There is still little regulation of election finance in South Australia. However, a private member’s bill has been introduced into the South Australian Parliament, which proposes to introduce various disclosure requirements for those who are not subject to the federal regime.

The funding and disclosure schemes that apply in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are discussed in section five (pp 23-39). Significant changes have been made to election finance law in Canada, the UK and US in the last few years. This section highlights some of the changes, and notes some of the initial repercussions and concerns associated with the alterations.

The regulation of election finance in Australia continues to be controversial. Some believe the system is too lax, whilst others see it as too heavily regulated. Section six (pp 40-63) provides an overview of the various debates surrounding the provision of public funding, the disclosure of donations, and electoral expenditure. Some of the issues specifically relating to independent candidates and members are also briefly highlighted.